Sunderland v Spurs: Richardson proving to be prolific replacement for Bent
THIS IS the tale of a top-flight northern club who were forced to sell their prized England striker in January after he handed in a transfer request.
It was a massive deal but when the forward was not replaced, fans worried where the goals would come from.
As it turned out, goals were not the problem – they kept flooding in. But the defence was leaky to say the least, resulting in some high-scoring games!
These events certainly don’t happen every week – but it did happen twice in a month.
Sunderland and Newcastle fans do not share much, but they have certainly had similar experiences in recent weeks – right up to Saturday, as the Black Cats lost a rollercoaster game 3-2 at Stoke, just hours before Newcastle drew 4-4 with Arsenal.
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For a while, Darren Bent’s �24million move from Sunderland to Aston Villa was the story of the transfer window – until the same thing happened 13 days later, and less than 15 miles away as Andy Carroll quit Newcastle.
That deadline day deal, and the frenetic day at Chelsea, left Bent in the background, and the former Tottenham striker has already been forgotten at the Stadium of Light – largely thanks to Kieran Richardson.
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The 26-year-old has scored four goals in the last three games – twice as many as Bent has managed for Villa – after being promoted to an advanced role.
It is easy to forget that Richardson scored two goals on his England debut seven years ago, in a 2-1 win under Sven Goran Eriksson.
His versatility has often taken him away from attacking areas, even to left-back, but now the pliable paceman is filling Bent’s boots, and excelling in his new role behind Asamoah Gyan.
“I must have asked him to play in five or six positions this season and certainly in that position he enjoys it, it’s something he revels in,” said Steve Bruce.
That is just as well because injuries to ex-Spurs man Fraizer Campbell and Manchester United loanee Danny Welbeck have left Richardson and Gyan as the only available forwards.
Yet the Black Cats still boast a strong front line, and summer signing Gyan has netted nine times for the Black Cats – including the equaliser in the 1-1 draw at the Lane in November.
In fact, since Bent’s exit, Sunderland have scored six goals in three games against Blackpool (won 2-1), Chelsea (lost 4-2) and Stoke (lost 3-2). It is just a shame that they conceded eight!
That is largely due to more injuries, to centre-back Michael Turner and captain Lee Cattermole, who caused controversy at Tottenham with a dangerous tackle on Luka Modric.
Bruce has responded by loaning Sulley Muntari from Inter Milan, and signing Paris St Germain’s Stephane Sessegnon for �6million.
Sessegnon, 26, can play in the centre of midfield or on the left, although he is right-footed – just like left-back Phil Bardsley.
Similarly to the absent Cattermole, Muntari’s presence allows England prospect Jordan Henderson to roam and attempt to control the game.
Twenty-year-old Henderson won his first cap for the Three Lions in November and is expected to interest the likes of Manchester United in the summer.
The verdict: This is a real bogey fixture for Spurs, who have lost three of their last five games on Wearside, drawing the other two and failing to win there since 2001.
Sunderland have only lost two of their 13 home games in the league, and have beaten Manchester City and held both Man United and Arsenal at the Stadium of Light this campaign.
This is another stern test for Spurs and much will depend on whether Rafael Van der Vaart and Gareth Bale are fit to play, but the clean sheet at Blackburn last week was encouraging, as is Sunderland’s dodgy defensive record recently.
Prediction: We will go for an entertaining draw but hope for better – 2-2.